Player of the Game: Defense
Mathieu caps prolific freshman campaign with MOP honors
By RICHARD FISCHER
Tiger Rag Assistant Editor
Patrick Peterson has excelled at reading offenses and making plays all year long.
But maybe the best read he made all season happened before it even started.
That’s because Peterson noticed something special in a recruit from St. Augustine High School in New Orleans that every Tiger fan now knows as Tyrann Mathieu.
“When I got down here, [Peterson] took me under his wing,” said Mathieu. “He showed me all the tricks and all the trades to the game, and I think that paid off in the end.”
But in addition to Mathieu’s on the field exploits, the freshman cornerback thanks his elder for helping him mature off the field.
“He showed me how to be a gentleman off the field, and he showed me how to play smart on the field,” said Mathieu. “He taught me to never take any man lightly and always play 100 percent.”
The New Orleans native certainly took the part about playing 100 percent to heart, showing a level of tenacity and relentlessness rarely seen on the football field.
Wherever the ball is, Mathieu seems to be there, filling up the stat sheet with 57 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, two interceptions, seven pass breakups, nine passes defended, five forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
“Some guys just have it, and [Mathieu] is definitely one of those guys,” said defensive coordinator John Chavis. “He’s a dynamic player. He loves to play the game. He practices hard, and he plays hard. I’m not surprised with anything he’s done.”
The freshman cornerback capped off one of the most memorable rookie campaigns in LSU history with a Cotton Bowl for the ages.
Mathieu became the second true freshman in Cotton Bowl history to take home Defensive MOP honors with seven tackles, one sack, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and an interception.
“He’s a natural football player,” said the defensive coordinator. “He’s got a lot of energy, and he’s around the football. When you hustle as much as he does, you’re going to make plays.”
But what may impress Chavis the most about Mathieu’s game is his incredible versatility. The freshman has shown the ability to play both cover cornerback and rusher off the edge to tremendous acclaim this season.
“We’ve never played a freshman at the number of positions we’ve played him at and counted on him to be a pass rusher,” said Chavis. “He’s done a tremendous job for us there.”
Like Peterson, Chavis noticed a certain talent in Mathieu very early on in his career at LSU.
“We started thinking [he was ready to contribute] pretty early. He’s a quick learner. He understands our scheme,” said Chavis. “It was from day one, but it was a process of him learning and continuing to grow, and he’s done that from day one.”
With his gaudy number of picks, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries, Mathieu has shown an uncanny knack for causing turnovers. The freshman contributes his ball stealing abilities to being moved from offense to defense early in life and still having the fire burning inside to want the ball in his hands.
“When you grow up and you play offense you’ve always got the ball in your hands, but when you move to defense, you don’t see the ball as often, so every time I see the ball, I try to get it,” said Mathieu.
And with his mentor likely leaving to enter the NFL Draft along with seniors Kelvin Sheppard and Drake Nevis, Mathieu is ready to take the next step and follow in their leadership footsteps.
“I grew up a lot this year,” said Mathieu. “You look at the leaders, and those guys aren’t going to be here next year. Hopefully I can step in and lead the team like they led the team.”